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It's All in the Matzah!

Wednesday, 20 March, 2013 - 1:41 pm

Even the most ignorant Jew is likely familiar with matzah on Pesach. Ask a child and she will tell you why we eat matzah on Passover: Because the Jews left Egypt in haste and their dough did not have time to rise. In commemoration of the unleavened bread that our ancestors ate upon leaving Egypt, we relive the experience by abstaining from leavened bread and eating matzah at the Seder.

The explanation is right on – but it still leaves more unanswered than answered.

Imagine if it so happened that the Continental Army was only able to eat berries during the Revolutionary War. Now imagine that on July 4 it would be forbidden for a week to eat any other fruit save for berries. We would need to scrub our homes clean from other fruit. We would have to spend the day eating a whole bunch of berries.  Eventually, the festival would lose the distinction as the holiday of Independence and would simply be dubbed, “The Festival of Berries.”

One day, some child would ask the inevitable: Aren’t we missing the point? Shouldn’t we be celebrating the very critical values of freedom and democracy and not getting lost in the minutiae of one historic detail?

So why are we making such a fuss over matzah? Isn’t it simply incidental that the Israelites didn’t eat leavened bread? Why has the central focus of the festival become eliminating chametz and eating matzah? Isn’t this at the expense of celebrating the true spirit of the holiday?

***

The mystics explain that there can be two people celebrating freedom; yet one is genuinely free and the other is actually enslaved to his “notion” of liberty.

This is underscored by the distinction between chametz and matzah. The key difference between bread and matzah is that bread has risen. The puffed-up characteristic of chametz represents ego. The flat and tasteless nature of matzah symbolizes humility.

The person who is pumped full of self, whose being is swelled by pride, leaves no room for a higher truth to enter his or her life. Instead, the bloat of ego becomes the festering ground for every spiritual and material ill. On the other hand, the humble soul is a soul receptive to faith, and humility is the healing force that restores the person’s spiritual health and neutralizes the maladies of material life.

Thus, true freedom is not about freedom from a tyrant. We can be at liberty to live wherever and however we want. Yet we can still be enslaved to our own character. It is freedom from our own ego that we are seeking.

***

If we only celebrated liberation from the country called Egypt or the oppressor called Pharaoh, we have missed the entire point of Passover.

But if we experience the internal liberation of matzah and eradicate the chametz from within – we have indeed achieved genuine freedom and spiritual independence.

So, Passover – in a nutshell – is all about chametz and matzah. Nothing, after all, is coincidental.

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